Scotland’s new President


by Calum Cashley

In days of yore the person who kept order in the Scots Parliament was known as the President. These days it’s the more prosaic title Presiding Officer and much tickled have I been by the fuss and flutter from Labour over the democratic election of a new Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. I am intrigued by the shortness of the collective Labour memory that conveniently forgets that it was the party which refused to provide a Presiding Officer in 2007 – a refusal which resulted in Hercules being dragged up to the chair and forced into it. I think he’s done a fine job over the past four years but you could sense that he was laying down what was a heavy burden when he passed over to Tricia Marwick and the grace with which he did so speaks volumes about him.

In electing Tricia, though, Parliament has done more than just elect the first female PO, it also elected the first PO who didn’t attend a private school. David Steel went to the Prince of Wales School in Nairobi and to George Watson’s in Edinburgh; George Reid went to Dollar Academy; Alex Fergusson went to Eton. Tricia, the daughter of a mining family in Cowdenbeath, went to the local council-run school. She’s also the first Presiding Officer to have gone straight from school to work, eschewing tertiary education; and I think that she’s probably the first to have had working-class parents.

She knows she’s got a task on her hands which no-one has faced before. Each of the Presiding Officers has faced different challenges. David Steel had to steer the institution through its set-up phase; George Reid had the building project and turning the institution into an internationally recognised body; Alex Fergusson had the first minority government and the arrival of George Foulkes; Tricia Marwick has the independence referendum, a host of newbie MSPs, the changing of the guard in the opposition parties and the tensions of a Parliament with a single-party majority for the first time. You might think she’s got an easier time than the others but I’m thinking it might not be as easy as it sounds.


Published with thanks to Calum Cashley.